What every boater should know about wind

Knowing what wind speed is safe for boating is a vital piece of knowledge for every sailor. Not only will it keep you safe, but you’ll know ahead of time if you’re likely to get blown out.

Let’s start with the basics.

Wind classifications

When someone says, ‘it’ll be light winds tomorrow,’ what exactly do they mean? This isn’t a subjective phrase, there are actual numbers attributed to each classification. In Australia, we use the Beaufort Wind Scale to determine the strength of a particular wind.

According to the scale, wind speed is determined as, ‘the average speed of the wind over a 10-minute period at a height of 10 metres above the surface.’ This speed is measured in knots.

If you’re not 100% comfortable with the measurement of knots just yet, remember that if you double the knots, you’ll get the approximate kilometres per hour.

For example, 25 knots equates to about 50 kilometres per hour. This can make it easier for you to ascertain whether a wind is strong or mild, since you’re probably familiar with kilometres.

You can also draw on this list of wind speeds:

  • Strong wind warning – 26 to 33 knots.
  • Gale warning – 34 to 47 knots.
  • Storm force wind warning – 48 to 63 knots.
  • Hurricane force wind warning – over 64 knots.


Other terms you should familiarise yourself with include:

  • Gusts – boosts in the speed of wind, which last only a few seconds. Speeds can be 30 to 40% greater than the average wind speed. Stronger gusts are more prevalent in the presence of showers, frontal systems and thunderstorms.
  • Squall – a large and abrupt increase in the speed of a wind, which tends to last a few minutes, then stops fairly suddenly.

* The information quoted above was sourced from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website.

Can your boat handle it?

The kind of vessel you operate will have a significant bearing on whether you can go out in a particular wind. For example, flat-bottomed boats are great in light winds, but won’t fare well in moderate winds.

Boats with Deep Vee and modified hulls are usually able to cut through chop and waves in strong winds, while lightweight boats with no liners tend to bounce about. Know the limits of your vessel before you head out on the water, and your limits as a sailor.

What’s the forecast?

In Australia the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is considered the most up to date and accurate weather forecast. Check it out online, or download the app, which offers regular updates on wind speeds, temperatures and even specific weather warnings for boaters.

For example, this week, BoM warned Western Australian sailors about gale warnings in Perth’s local waters, as well as the Geraldton coast, Lancelin, Bunbury-Geographe, Leeuwin and Albany. A strong wind warning was issued for Melville waters and the Gascoyne coast.

Now you know exactly what strong winds are, you’ll be able to make safer choices before hitting the water. (In the above examples, we highly recommend you don’t!)

Stay safe!

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